Opening this week

‘Sarkar 3’ film review: Amitabh Bachchan is the grace note in this tired soap opera

Ram Gopal Varma has little new to offer in the third part of the ‘Sarkar’ films, but the veteran actor is in fine form.

There is a new Ram Gopal Varma movie in the theatres. A little while ago, that statement used to be welcomed enthusiastically. But given the filmmaker’s free-fall collapse in form, it is now treated with a mixture of trepidation and weariness.

At the outset, this third chapter of Sarkar (2005), one of Varma’s last entirely watchable films, isn’t as egregious as his recent attempts. Some attention has been paid to the storytelling, and some of the camerawork is actually not risible. The bizarrely framed camera angles are kept to a minimum, although there is a repeated point-of-view shot from a character’s ring, leading to futile speculation about a spying device hidden in the precious stone.

There is the loud background music designed to resemble a religious chant, but it is relatively less shrill than in the older films. The shots of women’s derrieres are missing, although we did spot at least one barely clad nymph and one sullen-faced female (played by Yami Gautam), who glowers at all times for no reason.

At least for the first half of the 132-minute film¸ Varma manages to rustle up some interest in yet another utterly predictable episode in the never-ending saga of Subhash Nagre (Amitabh Bachchan). A Mumbai thug and extra-constitutional authority who is a composite of Bal Thackeray, Robin Hood and Don Corleone, Nagre has lost various family members to the machinations of his enemies. He loathes politicians but has the chief minister on speed dial and lords over the political system while claiming to be above it.

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Sarkar 3.

Chikoo (Amit Sadh) arrives on the scene in the same manner as Andy Garcia’s character did in The Godfather 3. Chikoo is Nagre’s grandson, and has inherited the foul temper and violent streak of his father (Kay Kay Menon), who died in the first part. Chikoo is entitled enough to demand a share of Nagre’s influence, which naturally irritates Nagre’s loyal henchman Gokul (Ronit Roy). Amit Sadh wears black throughout the film, refuses to shave, and scowls and swaggers about, but never for a minute is he convincing as a chip off the Nagre block.

Circling around Nagre like vultures waiting for the corpses to pile up is a reliable posse of villains, led by the dapper Michael (Jackie Shroff). The source of Nagre’s income is never revealed, but one can speculate that it doesn’t leave him enough to pay his electricity bills. Surrounded by statues and busts and forever seated in shadows inside rooms shielded from natural light by shades, Nagre is a staggeringly obvious dark overlord, but there is brightness whenever Michael is around and welcome humour in Shroff’s performance. His only brief is to vamp it up, and he does so gladly and unselfconsciously.

For all his much-vaunted influence, Nagre is highly vulnerable to attack – a scripting flaw that cannot be mistaken for astute plotting. The culprit is ultimately not any of Sarkar’s arch-enemies but the filmmaker’s famed cynicism at the political class and the institutions that hold society together. Varma’s dismissal of due process, of the legitimacy of elected representatives and the law and order machinery and people driven by political ideology, reaches peak optimisation in Sarkar 3. In the director’s pessimistic worldview, everybody is a sellout, including Manoj Bajpayee’s secretly corrupt political activist, and Subhash Nagre alone is worthy of respect and emulation.

This veneration doesn’t leave any room for character shading or an exploration of Nagre’s psyche, but it does allow for occasionally arresting tableaux of the don seated on his throne, flanked by his minions and slurping tea from a saucer while maintaining the balance of things. Amitabh Bachchan’s perfectly judged performance and the gravitas and authority that the thespian brings to his performance keep these scenes from sliding into pure parody.

Whenever the goings-on get too ponderous, and whenever there are too many non sequitur conversations on the nature and meaning of power, Jackie Shroff’s Michael shows up like an unexpected ray of sunshine. Light floods the frames and levity the narrative. “All the women I have given rings to have died,” he tells his moll – one of the few moments of fun in a soap opera that takes itself far too seriously at all times.

Amitabh Bachchan in Sarkar 3.
Amitabh Bachchan in Sarkar 3.
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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.